The new U.S. Supreme Court is now hearing arguments in its first of undoubtedly many abortion-related legal disputes. The court will decide the constitutionality of a New Hampshire law that requires minors to notify their parents before undergoing an abortion procedure. Although this decision’s outcome will have little bearing on some of the broader legal issues surrounding abortion, it is still the first in a potential avalanche of abortion cases that could threaten a woman’s control over her body.
If history is any guide, the threat to reproductive freedom in the United States is not from a single, sweeping court decision, but from a series of smaller decisions chipping away at the legacy of Roe v. Wade. Pro-choice advocates must take this opportunity to mobilize, recognizing that no infringement is too small to warrant a good fight. All women, regardless of age, deserve the right to choose, and forcing young women to share their decisions with their parents places an unnecessary and oftentimes dangerous burden on already troubled minors.
The New Hampshire statute requires parental notification 48 hours before the minor in question undergoes an abortion procedure. The law makes no exception unless the woman’s life is in danger. Unfortunately, the law fails to address the countless nonlife threatening – though nevertheless serious – medical complications that often result from pregnancy. If, for example, a minor seeks an abortion because her pregnancy threatens her future reproductive ability, she still has to notify her parents 48 hours before the abortion can take place. Although the parental notification process can be expedited and sometimes even avoided with a court order, any such legal appeal would cost time many women don’t have. Furthermore, a courthouse isn’t exactly the first place a pregnant teenager thinks to go after being denied an abortion.
While less stringent than companion laws in other states that require actual parental consent, the New Hampshire notification law still robs pregnant teenagers of the ability to decide whether to tell their parents. Many girls simply do not want to threaten their relationship with their parents, while others face stigmatization within their family or abuse by their parents. Countless reasons could influence a woman’s decision not to share her situation with her parents, and the law should not mandate consent for abortion procedures.
Ideally, all minors could be comfortable going to their parents to discuss pregnancy. Unfortunately, not all women enjoy the luxury of supportive parents with whom they can confide. A woman has the ultimate authority over her body, and while minors should, advisedly, discuss pregnancy with their parents, no law should force them to do so.